Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Released in December 1965
, the Austin 1800 was manufactured at BMC’s Zetland (NSW) facility. Robust, ample power and a huge amount of room for rear passengers, the 1800 would soon become a favourite of Aussie motorists, and deservedly so.
Thankfully to avoid confusion, the 1800 was never badged as a Morris or Wolseley, however that did not deter a few die-hards importing their own “individualistic” iterations. When introduced, the 1800 was far from ordinary. It soon became affectionately known as the “landcrab”, in reference to the elongated and low slung body style.
Voted European Car of the Year for 1965
, BMC were certainly on a winner with their new “large” car. The design of both Alec Issigonis
, arguably the most advanced part of the car lay with the new Hydrolastic suspension
. It even featured a primitive and early variation of anti lock brakes, whereby a valve would transfer braking force between the front and rear axles when one set of wheels began to lock up.
During the first full year of manufacture just on 10,000 would be manufactured, the majority finding homes in the suburbs. There would be a slight increase in sales during 1966
, however the big news came in 1968
with the introduction of an automatic transmission
as an option – enough to re-kindle interest in the car.
Sales reached an impressive 12,665 – the best ever for the car – and with the release of the Mark 2 version things were going very well indeed. However, inevitably, there would be fall in sales as the car needed a significant makeover. BMC would make the decision to cease manufacture in 1970, although a handful were still in the showrooms the following year.
The 1800 was replaced by the Australian engineered Austin Kimberley and Tasman series. All up a total of 56,918 Austin 1800 saloons were manufactured over the 5 years of Australian production. Also worthy of note was the uniquely Australian Austin 1800 Utility. Introduced in 1968
some 639 were sold in the first year. Predictably around 70% went to regions outside the capital cities, and in 1969 sales would increase by a massive 25% to just under 800.
, the final year for the saloon, the ute's popularity was also on the decline. That year only 579 sales were recorded, and in 1971
a final 319 found owners. Total registrations for the Austin 1800 Utility stand at 2,331.
The Etheridge 1800 GT
The Austin Etheridge G.T. was available from early 1969
. Modification work started with a complete dismantle of the motor and the substitution of an MGB camshaft for the standard 1800 model. The pistons in the four bores were matched for weight, their connecting rods were lightened the crankshaft was balanced together with the substituted competition clutch and flywheel. All the modified pieces were then crack tested to ensure they were stronger than standard and the bottom end was reassembled.
Work began on the top end with the polishing of all gas-flow areas the painstaking equalisation of capacity in the combustion chambers and the fitting and lapping in of a special inlet manifold and extractor exhaust
manifold. Two silencers were added to the exhaust
to damp cut differing resonances and a single tail pipe protruded at the rear. Twin SU 1.5 inch carbys were fitted, with air cleaners to quieten their otherwise insistent suck behind the dashboard.
Inside some extra instruments were added, these set on a wood-grained panel ahead of the steering wheel and matching this on the passenger's side was a door closing to the parcel shelf with a magnetic catch. To help others pick the car were yellow and black stripes over the roof, quartz iodine lights in front and backing lights set into the matt black tail panel. On the road and the 1800 GT was very much a different to drive, thanks to its 105 bhp, its increased torque, and its ability to take 7000 rpm without any apparent strain. And most important as far as long distance travel was concerned, the noise level was very little different from that of the standard 1800.
Overtaking or climbing hills proved to motoring journalists that the car's extra torque was working well and the handling was altered only slightly from that of the standard car. With the 1798cc motor mounted transversely ahead of the dashboard and driving the front wheels, the car had the front wheel drive understeer characteristic of a typical of that configuration, but with the 1800 from Etheridge, the extra power tended to magnify the effects.
Pressing on through corners produced understeer but lifting off in mid corner caused the nose to tuck-in with resultant oversteer. When necessary the car could be slowed from 80 mph without any sign of fade or strain from the 9.25 inch diameter front disc brakes
and 9 inch drums at the back. The steering was different in feel, retaining the 38 ft. turning circle and 3.5 turns lock to lock, but with effort no greater and convenience much improved through the fitting of a smaller diameter wood rimmed steering wheel. Compared to the standard 1800, the Etheridge GT had a more relaxed feel, while retaining the already very smooth ride along with the other 1800’s qualities.
A feature of the conversion was the way the engine would run smoothly down to 20 mph in top gear if desired. Around the city the 1800 GT was less at home than in the country, its 2573 lb. body being rather hefty for 1800cc, despite the power increase. While it was easy to induce wheel-spin, provided you got a clean start you would reach 50 mph in a brief 9.2 seconds, covering the standing quarter mile in 18.9 seconds. The engine conversion added $430 to the cost but improved the car's performance, smoothness, reliability, and makes it an effortless, quiet open road runner. Today we would consider these rare, or perhaps extinct. They were only available from Etheridge, then based in Whitehorse Road, Nunawading, in suburban Melbourne. Unfortunately we have no production or sales figures for the model.